Do We Need to Change How We View Exercise?


Exercise. What were the first feelings you had when you read that word? Were they positive or negative? If they were negative, you’re not alone. For many of us, the very thought of having to do ‘official’ exercise is enough to make us break out in a cold sweat. Somehow we view exercise as some sort of punishment.

Remember when you were a kid?  Walking, running, and biking didn’t seem like work, did they? We were just outside having fun. We didn’t think, “I should be getting some exercise, so I’m going to go ride my bike for 30 minutes. Oh, and if it doesn’t hurt, I must not be doing it right.”

Somewhere along the way, maybe our view of exercise became skewed. Physical activity became more of a chore than something we did for fun.

The “No pain, no gain” mentality took over.  We started thinking that we needed to be miserable while exercising for it to do any good. Let me just tell you — not only is that not true; it’s downright damaging. So many people have developed negative feelings around exercise because of those four little words.

Even when we don’t realize we’re thinking it, that insidious little idea can be hanging around in our minds. We often think if we don’t exercise for a certain amount of time at a specific intensity, it doesn’t “count” as exercise.

But wait — what about those Physical Activity Guidelines?(1) Don’t they say we need to exercise for 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity? The short answer is yes. BUT they also say, “Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.”

That means that doing ‘just a little better’ with our exercise can start to make a difference in our health. There are a lot of small things we can do to incorporate more movement into our day.

“Okay” you may be saying, “but I still hate exercise.”

It might be helpful to ask ourselves, “Do I really hate exercise, or do I hate the idea of doing it the way I “should” be doing it?” So often, the activities we decide to engage in are based solely on the number of calories we can burn doing them.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what if the activity we choose for calorie burn is something we absolutely detest? I don’t know about you, but I absolutely could not make myself stick with doing an exercise I hate.

Maybe it’s time to change our view of exercise.

Rather than looking at exercise as something we have to do, let’s find things that we like to do. Let’s get rid of the notion that exercise has to be hard to improve our wellness. Let’s get rid of the ‘shoulds‘ surrounding it and enjoy how movement makes us feel.

Finding those things that we enjoy doing makes it easier to stick with exercise. And let’s face it — if we can’t stick with it, we’re not going to see the benefit.

In her book No Sweat, (2) Michelle Segar, PhD, tells the story of one of her clients who, every New Year, determined that she was going to lose weight. She’d go to the gym and do the elliptical, rower, and treadmill at high intensity, hating every minute of it. When Michelle asked her how long she stuck with it, she told her she usually made it about three weeks. Michelle suggested that her client try doing something she actually liked instead, and her answer was, “But I won’t get the benefits if it doesn’t hurt to do it.” Michelle’s response was, “How much of those benefits are you getting from doing it three weeks out of the year?” Great point, right?

Rather than torturing ourselves with exercise we don’t enjoy doing, we can find ways to move that not only make us feel good while we’re doing them but help us feel better in the long run.

Woman doing handstand, alongside text: Have Some Fun! What's the best type of exercise? The kind you'll actually do. If you don't feel like going to the gym or doing an "official workout," you can try fun exercises, games, or outdoor workouts. The list may include dancing, horseback riding, swimming, mountain biking, badminton, volleyball, basketball, and any of your favorite sports.

Which activities do you enjoy?

In order to find those activities we enjoy, sometimes we need to take a look at our feelings around certain types of exercise. Do we have positive or negative feelings about certain types of exercise? How about the setting we exercise in? Do we prefer solitary pursuits or group activities?

Taking the time to look at these things can help us move toward finding activities we can enjoy and stick with. If you’d like some help with this process, you can download the Feelings About Exercise form. All you have to do is fill out the form below, and you’ll see it in your email shortly.

Finding out that there are some activities that we feel positive about might help us change our view of exercise.

Once we’ve figured out what kind of activities we want to participate in, we can take a look at getting started with exercise. Next week, we’ll talk about different ways we can structure our activity to improve our overall wellness without making ourselves feel worse.

What kind of relationship do you have with exercise? Do you view it as something that just has to be done or do you see it as something you actually enjoy? Please share!



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(1) Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,

(2)No Sweat, How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, 2015, Michelle Segar, PhD, AMACOM, New York, New York.

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  1. Terri, this is GENIUS!! Personally, I’ve never really thought about encouraging and motivating myself to exercise by choosing an exercise that I enjoy over doing ones that I feel like I should do. As you know, running used to be my go-to choice for exercise – can’t tell you how many problems I’ve solved or challenges I’ve worked through while lost on an open road somewhere. Regretfully, my joints become quite unhappy with me when I place that kind of stress on them, so as odd as it sounds (to most people), pushing a lawn mower has become my go-to for solving problems and working through challenges. My hands-down absolute favorite exercise these days, however, is every one I get to do with you! Our walks together through any of the beautiful trails we have around here helps to keep my joints functioning well, and being with you outdoors always feeds my spirit and my soul . . . and when we fuel our bodies for it by sitting at a bench table with our favorite breakfast sandwiches and a cup of coffee before we walk, sheer joy and happiness ~ all-kinds of well-being benefits! Love You Honey!

    1. Thanks so much Honey! I hate that you’re not able to run anymore because I know how much you loved it. I am, however, glad you found another thing that allows you to do the thinking you used to do when you were running. I really enjoy our walks too – it’s such a wonderful way to get some exercise AND enjoy each other’s company. ❤️ I love you!

  2. Hey Terri – sorry about the first comment that got cut off. Hit the wrong button my mistake. I couldn’t find a way to get back in and edit it. I wanted to say I agree wholeheartedly that I always stop short when I’m doing something I don’t enjoy. Thanks for the continued encouragement.

    1. Hey, no worries Tim! That’s happened to me before too. I think it’s unfortunate that our concept of exercise is that we have to ‘suffer through’ it instead of just finding something we actually like to do. Hope you guys have a wonderful Independence Day weekend!

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